The Muslim world heaved a sigh of relief when Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement last week in Makkah to form a national unity government. The agreement signed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Chief Khalid Mashaal sent home signals to the fighters of the two sides to stop killing each other.

Nearly a 100 people had been killed over the last few weeks of internecine fight. There is widespread hope among Palestinians in particular, and Arab and other Muslims in general, yet they know that it is not for the first time that the two sides have met and pledged to remain united. Only last month Abbas and Mashaal had met in Syria and made the same declarations of unity.

There is some marked difference this time, though. The Makkah Declaration (that is what it is being called) is a binding document that clearly lays down the ground rules of forming a national unity government. Ismail Haniya of Hamas will continue to be the prime minister. Hamas will have nine cabinet posts, Fatah will get six and four other parties will get one each. The power-sharing arrangement seems fair as Fatah has the presidency under Abbas.

According to reports, the ministries of interior, finance and foreign affairs go to independents. A significant feature of the deal is that it is silent on the recognition of Israel. This has been done to accommodate Hamas, which does not recognise Israel. The United States initially responded on an optimistic note expressing the hope that ultimately ground would be prepared for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. However, that remains a mere pious wish as the US and European Union still continue to starve the Palestinians of funds, thus creating extraordinary hardships for them.

Israel is not pleased with the agreement and giving indications that it will not continue contacts with Mahmoud Abbas. Israelis were also friendly with Mohammad Dahlan, PA’s supreme authority on internal security. He has been so friendly with Israel and America that an enraged Yasser Arafat once whipped out his revolver, pointed it at Dahlan, and threatened to shoot him. Hamas has been wary of this man, and he is said to be out of power in the new dispensation.

America is so hostile to Hamas that it has been regularly threatening to boycott Fatah and other groups if they joined a Hamas-led government. Now that they are about to do exactly that it is worth watching how America finally reacts. According to reports US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s scheduled visit to Jerusalem on February 18 would have a different agenda now. Earlier her visit was claimed to be related to discussing the modalities of formation of a Palestinian state. Palestinian and other Arabs know that America and Israel are not serious about the formation of a Palestinian state in the first place and the change of agenda is quite well anticipated.

Meanwhile, Hamas is not going to recognise Israel anytime soon. That is what Hamas officials have declared. They know that PLO and its chairman Yasser Arafat did not get anything in return for the recognition of Israel. However, in the Makkah agreement the Hamas and Fatah have agreed to respect earlier commitments and agreements. That, at least obliquely, implies that the recognition of Israel by the PA is a fait accompli for Hamas as well.

It could be that Hamas does not want to be seen as backtracking from its uncompromising stance against the Jewish states. Hamas leaders know that once they recognise Israel common Palestinians will not see much difference between them and Fatah, over which they have got a marginal advantage because of this particular difference. In plain words, Hamas would not like to lose its constituency.

Conversely, if they don’t respect the earlier agreements (which means recognising Israel also) they will be held responsible for breaching the Makkah accord. That can lead to the dismissal of the government and the beginning of a civil war. Palestinians are wise enough to dread such an eventuality and put pressure on their leaders to avoid internecine conflict.

The West is not going to relent the economic pressure on PA until the new government recognises Israel. Palestinian people have already suffered enough hardships and would only welcome an end to it. The coming weeks are going to test the sagacity of Palestinian leaders.g

See also Makkah Declaration is a good step forward

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